Quote of the week

May 15, 2010

After a couple months hiatus, I’m diving back into my weekly quote feature with a provocative quote on science and religion. It is from an essay titled “Mind and Spirit,” by John A. Buehrens, from the book Our Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism, by John A. Buehrens and F. Forrester Church.

As important as science is, however, a sound integration of mind and spirit means that the world cannot be saved by mind alone, nor by science alone, nor by reason, nor by technology. As our nuclear age and our ecological crisis so painfully demonstrate, without a larger sense of purpose and relatedness, the productions of science and the human mind can themselves become dangerous idols. These relational issues, and issues of purpose, are spiritual in character. At the same time, the various warring sects of religion testify that the products of the human spirit can also become dangerous idols if not brought within a wider and more reasoned perspective.

That “larger sense of purpose and relatedness” is what I believe is absolutely critical to becoming a more peaceful world. We need both rational, logical, critical thinking and a spiritual sense of the interrelatedness of all beings.


Peace Pilgrim

March 17, 2009

Note: I cross-posted this at my other blog, Books and Other Miscellany.

Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words is a compilation of writings and transcripts of speeches by a woman who called herself Peace Pilgrim. She was an amazing and inspiring woman who walked back and forth across the country for almost 30 years bearing a message of peace. In 1953 she rid herself of all possessions other than the clothes she wore, a toothbrush, a comb, a pen, and some paper, and embarked on her pilgrimage for peace. She slept outdoors or at truck stops unless someone offered her a bed, and ate only when someone offered her a meal. Her message was simple:

This is the way of peace — overcome evil with good, and falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.

She gradually became well-known and spoke at colleges and churches across the country as she walked for peace. She was still on her pilgrimage in 1981 when she died in a car accident (being driven by a friend to a speaking engagement), because she had vowed that “I shall remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until I am given shelter and fasting until I am given food.” (Wo)mankind unfortunately did not learn the way of peace before her death, and still hasn’t.

Many of her words rang true with me and echoed things I have thought about before. These include the ideas that inner peace requires living in the present, not owning more than we need, and being kind and compassionate and giving towards all, that evil can only be overcome by goodness, and that people who do evil things are hurt in some way. Peace Pilgrim emphasized that if someone does something unkind towards us, we can choose whether to respond with hurt and anger or with compassion, and that it is harmful to ourselves to respond with anger. She talked about how fear is almost always of the unknown, and that thus getting familiar with something or someone helps you overcome fear. She said that the way of peace is the philosophy that the means determine the end, and that peace cannot be reached through non-peaceful means such as war. I agree with all these aspects of her message.

However, her words were too spiritual and religious for me. Her inner peace was based in a spiritual connection and a belief in God (she did not call herself Christian or any other particular religion, but simply religious), and besides all the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph, she also emphasized a distinction between the higher self and the self-centered self, and between the body and the soul. She said that there were divine laws guiding us towards peace that we could choose to follow or not, and also that each person has a preordained calling. I do not want to go into my own religious beliefs here, but suffice it to say that these views do not ring true with me, and that my belief in peace, both inner and outer, is not based in any sort of spiritual or religious belief. It was therefore difficult for me to get through parts of the book that were focused on these spiritual and religious aspects.

For me, her message therefore comes through in spite of the spiritual aspects, but I think it is a very important one. I admire her inner strength, her ability to rid herself of all possessions and walk for so many years, and her ability to be kind and compassionate towards every single human being. I think she was in many ways a modern-day prophet.

The book itself is well put together; her friends were clearly dedicated and spent a good bit of time organizing her writings and speeches into a coherent flow. Most of it consists of writings in Peace Pilgrim’s words, but there are several appendices containing her answers to questions she received through correspondence, newspaper articles, and other peoples’ impressions of her.

If you are interested in peace, the life of a modern pilgrim, living simply, or living compassionately, I think it is worth reading at least parts of this book (it is somewhat repetitive since the writings are taken from many different times). You can read the entire thing online here, and learn more about her in general here.

The Golden Rule

April 20, 2008

I sing in a Unitarian Universalist church choir, and we recently starting learning the third movement of a piece titled Sources: A Unitarian Universalist Cantata, which consists of one movement for each source of Unitarian Universalism. The movement we are singing is inspired by the third source, “Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life”, and the composer, Jason Shelton, chose the Golden Rule (do not do unto others what you would not have done unto you) as the centering theme of the piece. It is a simple yet beautiful and moving piece of music. He intersperses a repeated chorus with spoken words – quotes from many different religious all expressing a version of the Golden Rule, and concludes with a chant of the word “peace” in several different languages.

I was deeply moved to see together on one page the same moral belief expressed over and over by so many different religions. I found a website (one of many) that includes all the quotes in the music and more: Versions of the Golden Rule in 21 world religions. The words of the chorus touch on the shared humanity that I felt in reading these quotes: “Many windows, one light; Many waters, one sea; All lifted hearts are free”. To me, it is very powerful to think that across time and place, many different religions have espoused the same simple concept, and it makes me both sad and hopeful. Sad, because it seems that in daily practices and beliefs some groups within some religions have lost touch with the Golden Rule; groups that endorse violence and intolerance rather than acceptance and love. On the other hand, I am hopeful, because these quotes illustrate how very fundamental this rule is, and thus it must be possible for people to understand and rediscover meaning in it. I believe that if people take the time to sit down and read these quotes and think about what they mean to them, they will feel more compassion and understanding and start to question the incessant violence in the world.

What does the Golden Rule mean? Most fundamentally, simply to consider your actions; to put yourself in the place of others in order to understand whether you are doing something that may be hurtful to them. For me, this is particular crucial when your actions are violent, either physically or emotionally. Additionally, I think it is helpful to think of it in terms of general treatment of fellow humans rather than specific daily actions. If you would feel hurt to be treated with anything other than love, respect, and compassion, then you should make sure that you are always treating others with respect. This could in fact include doing a specific act for someone that you would *not* want done for you – because you listened to the person and did something that was truly important to them, rather than acting on your own beliefs or opinions about that person. For example, if you were grieving, you may wish to be left alone, while someone else who is grieving may wish for company. Just as you would hope that people would listen and respect your needs when you tell them to leave you alone, you should listen to the person who wants company and give them what they need. Thus, I interpret the “do” in the Golden Rule as meaning the fundamental way that you interact with others.

I am looking forward to sharing this piece of music with my congregation when we sing it in a service, and to read aloud one of the quotes during the piece. I hope that others will feel moved by it and that we can together remember and share the importance of the Golden Rule.